Monday, November 30, 2020

A View from Amy Willoughby-Burle's window! a year of thorns and honey.....


 Having never read your novels, I was immediately caught up in the lives of Nina and her family.  Can you tell me what inspired this set of characters?

This novel actually started as a short story that appears in my collection, Out Across the Nowhere. I most often get an image or a line of dialogue pop into my head and the story forms around it. It's like seeing something shiny poking out from the dirt and then brushing, digging, pulling until you get the whole thing up.  The spark for this one was actually a memory inside a memory wrapped around something fictional. Nina appeared to me as me, inside a Texaco bathroom while on a trip to Disney world with her family, only she wasn't a child and her father had died. I thought, wait, that's not me. Who is that? What happened? And it grew from there. I started to "hear the voices in my head," which my mother thought sounded like I might be crazy, but writers know what I mean. The voices were Lola and Ray, her brother and sister. I also have one brother and one sister, so the dynamic was familiar, but Lola and Ray are not my brother and sister. I started writing to find out the story for myself. That's the fun part for a writer. We don't know what's going to happen either.

What character are you most drawn to in this novel, and why?

I think my favorite character is Oliver--Father Finley. I love that he's so human and at the same time so much a source of peace and comfort representing the church and Christ. I think he's  funny and real and he reminds me how approachable Christ is to us. I like that he represents the ability to have a very personal relationship with God.

Will there be more stories built around this same set of characters in the future?  Are you already at work on another story?

Well, actually, this is a stand-alone follow-up to The Lemonade Year where we first meet all these characters. You can totally read The Year of Thorns and Honey by itself, but it's actually the second in a series. And yes, I am already working on book 3! It will likely be a stand-alone as well, but totally the continuation of this book.  I think of them as season on a show--back in the day before you could binge watch the whole thing on Netflix. You might come to something in season 2 and be able to follow right along.

Can you share a bit about your own writing process?  Do you outline? Do you let your characters tell the story? 

Yes and yes. But the other way around. I let the characters tell me  quite a bit about the story in their own order and time and then once I think I have a handle on what's happening, then I start outlining and piecing things together, filling in the gaps.

How long have you been writing?  Tell readers a bit about your journey to publication.

I have always known I wanted to be a writer. When I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me the continued stories of Hansel and Gretel. They were elaborate and wonderful. I asked her one day what book they were in because I wanted to read them again. She said. "Oh, sweetie, I'm just making these up as I go along."  That blew my world wide open. As an eight-year-old, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone could write a story. I already loved to read. Books were my jam. I just didn't know that anyone could write one. I started writing right away. I would get a diary and number all the pages and "write a book." 

I wrote all through middle school and then in high school I discovered boys and forgot about writing for a while. (Ladies, boys are nice and all, but don't forget who you are.) I came back to it full force in college when I "sneaked" and took a writing class instead of something more practical. I was hooked all over again. I started writing short fiction. I took more and more of those writing classes and after I graduated, I kept working on the craft. Life moved forward and there were seasons where I wrote more and wrote less. After my first child was born in late 2001 I really got serious about publishing. I published my first story in 2006. (This is not a fast industry.) I published about a dozen more in various journals. In 2012, I had a collection published. By that time, I was also working on novel length stories. Most things come to me as short pieces and some of them keep nudging at me to dig deeper.  That shiny object is sometimes bigger than I think it is. I got an agent in Dec of 2015, Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency, and she has been my champion since then.  The Lemonade Year came out in 2018. Now, this one in 2020. She has about four other novels of mine that she's shopping around and there are more in the works even.

What words of encouragement would you like to share with your readers?

When you feel drawn to something, when you're naturally "good" at it or inclined toward it--I believe that thing is a gift from God. I believe that he gave you that thing--whatever it is-- singing, writing, crafting, organizing, dancing, teaching, even math(ing) to be used to lead people to Him. So don't let mom (or dad!) guilt, laundry, the opinions of others or whatever it is, keep you from exploring and using that gift. It's not about being great at it, it's about doing and dealt her another blow--but she keeps on looking up. Keep looking up. This--mess we're all in it with a passion for people and for Christ. Also, life is wonky right now to say the least. My mom said of the title of my new book as it applies to 2020, "enough of the thorns, let's see the honey." Then life went together-- it too shall pass. God is in control and He is ever with us. I love that we're headed into the Christmas season. Boy do we need to be reminded of the gift of Christ right now. He is ours and we are His.


Please visit Amy's website to learn more about her books!  You will be so glad you did!!





Sunday, November 29, 2020

the year of thorns and Honey by Amy Willoughby-Burle - REVIEWED


 About the Book:

Nina is a photographer who really appreciates control. She likes to set up just the right shot with the perfect composition, but life is not always as pretty as her pictures. The lighting is off, the timing is wrong, and the subjects just won't do like she wants them to.

She's engaged to her ex-husband, her teenage daughter is testing all the boundaries, and her childhood memories have a For-Sale sign on them. She's also keeping a secret about the chance of a lifetime, but what she'll have to give up to get it might not be worth it. Just when she thinks she's got it all figured out, an important someone resurfaces and forces her to take a hard look at what she really wants and why.

Life can be as prickly as it is sweet. Will Nina be able to let go of the perfect picture she had in her head and let her heart find the sweetness that life has to offer.

About the Author:

Amy Willoughby-Burle grew up in the small coastal town of Kure Beach, North Carolina. She studied writing at East Carolina University and is now a writer and teacher living in Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband and four children. She writes about the mystery and wonder of everyday life. Her contemporary fiction focuses on the themes of second chances, redemption, and finding the beauty in the world around us. Sara Gruen says of The Lemonade Year, “When life gives you lemons, read this book. It’s a delicious glass of humor, heart, and hope.”  Amy is also the author of a collection of short stories entitled Out Across the Nowhere and a contributor to a number of anthologies.




My Thoughts:
"Sticky, beautiful, sweet and messy.  Life."  (p, 377)

Nina and I are uncomfortably similar in our need to control every aspect of our world to feel safe.  Nina's control issues run up against a brick wall with everyone in her life, because everyone else has pushed beyond their fear and embraced the reality of their own life choices.  For Nina's sake, and my own, grace and mercy has never looked sweeter!

This author does a masterful job of fleshing out every character's personality and how the need to have control over the uncomfortable choices they have made (and are making) play out in their closest relationships.  Nina pretty much stays at odds with everyone; her daughter Cassie, her mom, her sister and brother-in-law, Father Finley and her ex-husband Jack.  Within those relationships, the reader sees another layer of struggle for control, and the strain and heartbreak that result.  There are some scenes - like the one with the moving van and the night Cassie seeks solace outside her parents' awareness - that illustrate the extreme lengths the human heart will go to in order to avoid dealing with painful emotions.

Every single relational conflict in this story is universal nature, and every reader will identify with one or more of the situations.  I think I saw myself in every single one! Talk about felling your toes stepped on by the weight of truth! Ouch!  I could not put this story down, and quickly found myself involved in the lives of each character.

Second chances are often never offered in our lives - to ourselves or to others - because we're never willing to boldly face our own shortcomings or become willing to risk rejection.  I hope you can "hear" me when I say this: take a risk and read this book!  You will leave its pages challenged and satisfied.  This story is every bit as sticky, beautiful, sweet and messy as life can be!

Bravo, Amy Willougby-Burle!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Conqueror by Bryan Litfin REVIEWED


 About the Book:

AD 309. Rome teeters on the brink of war. Constantine's army is on the move. On the Rhine frontier, pagan Germanic barbarian Brandulf Rex joins the Roman army as a spy. Down in Rome, senator's daughter Junia Flavia finds herself embroiled in anti-Christian politics as she works on behalf of the church.

As armies converge and forces beyond their control threaten to destroy everything they have worked for, these two people from different worlds will have to fight together to bring down the evil Emperor Maxentius. But his villainous plans and devious henchmen are not easily overcome.

Will Rex and Flavia live to see the Empire bow the knee to Christ? Or will their part in the story of Constantine's rise meet an untimely and brutal end?

About the Author:

Bryan Litfin is the author of the Chiveis Trilogy, as well as several works of nonfiction, including Early Christian Martyr Stories, After Acts, and Getting to Know the Church Fathers. A former professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute, Litfin earned his PhD in religious studies from the University of Virginia and his ThM in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently a writer and editor at Moody Publishers. He and his wife have two adult children and live in Wheaton, Illinois. Learn more at www.bryanlitfin.com.  

My Thoughts:

"Be strong and courageous, brave warrior...and wait to discover the plans of God."  (p.490)

This novel, The Conqueror, is a majestic piece of literature that sweeps the reader back into the history of the early church.  Rome is the target of conquest, and the warring parties are filled with much darkness and a malevolent greed.

Among all of this, there is a young Speculator named Rex who rises in favor with his general to become a spy.  Embedded in the imperial horse guard, Rex is tasked with gathering intelligence to feed to the Emperor Constantine in his quest to free Rome from the tyrannical rule of Praetorian prefects Pompeianus and Emperor Maxentius.  That storyline alone is RICH!

BUT there is Flavia, a daughter of another aristocratic leader, and also a daughter of King Jesus.  The Christians are still reeling from persecution when they find themselves in the middle of a war they neither want or can ever begin to slow. Flavia finds herself a pawn between rulers and winds up as a fugitive for her very life when Rex intervenes at a particularly deadly moment!

These two characters serve as a rich center point upon which  Litfin builds a saga quite unlike anything I've ever read!  Every character, whether emperor or common slave, comes alive on the page! The passage of time and change in scenario is seamless, and your own life and time passes over you with little notice! (think late nights that you don't mind at all!)  This is such a treasure!!  Greater still...it's the first in a series! You will be so glad you chose to spend time with this novel!  It will change your heart!!


Friday, October 30, 2020

The Sound of Falling Leaves by Lisa Carter - REVIEWED


 About the Book:

After aspiring opera singer Tessa loses her voice in a fire, she needs both a place to heal and a way to keep music in her life. She retreats to her aunt's apple orchard in rural North Carolina to collect folk ballads. But amid the autumn splendor of this isolated Appalachian community, she uncovers an unnerving connection between a murder case and a long-ago disappearance. Tessa gets a glimpse into an almost-forgotten world, encounters a corrupt, small-town political dynasty, and finds superstition and prejudice at every turn.

She's also drawn to Zeke, the handsome but enigmatic orchard caretaker, who shows her that mountain justice is neither impartial nor just. But battling a conspiracy of silence, Tessa isn't sure if she can trust him. Yet somewhere in the mists of the Blue Ridge Mountains, evil lurks, and a killer is determined to keep the past where it belongs--dead and buried.

About the Author:
Lisa Carter is the best-selling author of seven romantic suspense novels, four historical novellas, and a contemporary Coast Guard series. Her book Under a Turquoise Sky won the 2015 Carol Award for Romantic Suspense. Blending Southern and Native American fiction, she likes to describe her suspense novels as "sweet tea with a slice of murder." Lisa enjoys traveling to romantic locales and researching her next exotic adventure. When not writing, she loves spending time with her family and teaching writing workshops. A native North Carolinian, she has strong opinions on barbecue and ACC basketball. Visit her online at lisacarterauthor.com


My Thoughts:
"Ouida sighed, the sound like the rustling of autunm leaves.  'Knowing is a far different thing than having the power to stop it.  Such a power is reserved for God Himself."  (p. 126)

This story combines two very unlikely characters, Tessa, an opera singer by trade, and Zeke, an undercover detective working for her aunt.  The setting is also unusual, an Appalacian community where innocents like Ouida and Tess' Aunt Dicey live, but fail to thrive, because of the dark cloud of evil that reigns over the valley in the form of the Cozart family.  Apparently, this wicked family has extended its power over the people of this town for decades, and they have finally encountered folks who are angry and greived enough to fight for justice - no matter the cost.

Tessa sort of stumbles into this battle when her own life circumstances are dramatically and unalterbly changed through another very dark and untimely tragedy.  The only thing that seems to keep her boueyed to hope and healing are her Aunt Dicey, and her unexpectedly handsome orchard supervisor, Zeke.

Zeke is less than thrilled for an outsider to disrupt his already complicated undercover assignment.  As the story unfolds, there is a depth of human emotion that the reader will find to be as thrilling and heart stopping as the mystery and espionage taking place right under the community's collective noses!  With more twists and turns than the rural roads running through this Appalacian town, the reader will be burning the midnight oil to find out who survives this novel!! Talk about a nail biter!!  

I HIGHLY recommend this story! It is well written, well paced and filled with characters you will want to hold close to your heart.  I know my heart ached for them all at one point or another!! Don't wait to add this book to your reading list!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Something Worth Doing by Jane Kirkpatrick REVIEWED


 About the Book:

In 1853, Abigail Scott was a nineteen-year-old school teacher in Oregon Territory when she married Ben Duniway. Marriage meant giving up on teaching, but Abigail always believed she was meant to be more than a good wife and mother. When Abigail becomes the primary breadwinner for her growing family, what she sees as a working woman appalls her--and prompts her to devote her life to fighting for the rights of women, including the right to vote.

Based on a true story, Something Worth Doing will resonate with modern women who still grapple with the pull between career and family, finding their place in the public sphere, and dealing with frustrations and prejudices when competing in male-dominated spaces.

About the Author:


Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling and award-winning author of more than 30 books, including One More River to CrossEverything She Didn't SayAll Together in One PlaceA Light in the WildernessThe Memory WeaverThis Road We Traveled, and A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have won the WILLA Literary Award, the Carol Award for Historical Fiction, and the 2016 Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award. Jane divides her time between Central Oregon and California with her husband, Jerry, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Caesar. Learn more at www.jkbooks.com



My Thoughts:

"Relationships were so unpredictable, and she longed for certainty - certainty she could control." (p. 153)

Abigail Scott Duniway is a name I was unfamiliar with, but is now one I'll not soon forget.  The later part of the 1800's and early part of the 1900's were not easy for anyone, but women seemed to bear the lion's portion of every aspect of family life.  They had little hope of survival at all without a man, and the burden to provide children, and lots of them, was something many didn't survive. Abigail nearly didn't, and somehow I think this was the genesis of her understanding that she had a greater purpose in life than bearing children. 

Kirkpatrick allows the story to unfold naturally through life circumstances, and Abigail's longing for more - more freedom, more autonomy, more ingenuity, more life - keeps her going through all of life's struggles.  It's not long after the harsh reality of the Oregon frontier strikes a few blows that Abigail knows with certainty that is the right to vote - to have your voice heard makes all the difference.

Words become Abigail's voice, her weapon, her wealth as she becomes an active suffragette.  This comes to her over time, and through many avenues of hard work and determination.  She knows beyond a doubt that her husband, Ben, is the greatest source of strength, because he always supports her with a level-headed and calming presence.  She always knew how blessed she and her children were to have him in their lives.

I can't imagine pursuing something for four decades, but Abigail does and lives long enough to see her work come to fruition.  She experienced a lot of heartache and loss along the way, but she never turned aside.  She always struggled relationally with a lot of folks, and she was a bit of a control freak, but those qualities allowed her to pursue her cause tirelessly.  Oh that we all could live our lives so filled with purpose!

Thank you Jane Kirkpatrick for bringing Abigail to vivid life!  This has been an inspiring story to read and enjoy!

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Dazzle of Diamonds by Liz Johnson - REVIEWED

 

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Penelope Hunter loves her job as the event manager at one of Savannah's premier historic venues--until her ex-fiancĂ© walks into her office with his new bride-to-be. Surely she cannot be expected to plan their wedding. To make matters worse, a scheming social matriarch is threatening to take her big-ticket event elsewhere, especially if Penelope insists on being seen with her best friend, Tucker Westbrook.

Since returning from serving two tours in the Middle East, Tucker has built a thriving security company. His work is nearly as stabilizing as his lifelong friendship with Penelope. But when the lone candidate for county sheriff goads him, Tucker loses his cool and ends up on the ballot--and on the receiving end of a smear campaign claiming the Westbrooks were traitors to the South.

To clear his name, Tucker and Penelope must join forces to find the truth behind a lost Civil War treasure. But the more time they spend together, the closer she comes to losing her job--and falling helplessly in love.

My Thoughts:

"Love is love because it's freely given.  It may cost everything, but it is free to give."  (p. 304)

Penelope Hunter and Tucker Westbrook have a bit of trouble determining what love looks like in their lives. Caught up in community drama, public scrutiny and good 'ole fashioned Southern Tradition, these two find themselves entangled in a personal way that seems way too complicated for anyone's good. On top of that,there is a public office at stake based on a treasure hunt that has gone on for over a century! True to the depth of Southern pride, and the propensity of gossip, a dark shadow is cast over the lives of many!

You know, if I wasn't born and raised in the South, I might have missed some of the nuances of this story.  However, I was able to totally relate to everyone's point of view - from Penelope's stress about her job performance for her very elite clientele, to Tucker's anxiety spawned by his father's expectations.  I even understand the weird dynamic that causes Penelope and Tucker to cook up the drama that almost costs them what matters most.

I love the way they allow history and mystery steer them toward the truth in every area of their lives.  This is a fun and very unexpected read!  There is SO MUCH going on that you have a hard time putting it down! You have to find out where the next clue leads!

Well, I'm going to stop here before I say too much.  If you want a Southern Romance, then pick this up and settle in for a good read!  Enjoy!! I did!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Liz Johnson is the author of more than a dozen novels, including A Sparkle of SilverA Glitter of GoldThe Red Door InnWhere Two Hearts Meet, and On Love's Gentle Shore, as well as a New York Times bestselling novella and a handful of short stories. She works in marketing and makes her home in Phoenix, Arizona.







Monday, August 3, 2020

These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker - REVIEWED



ABOUT THE BOOK:
Once held captive and tortured on a mysterious mountain, Dan was lucky to have made it out alive. But freedom comes at a cost. Left with little memory of the horrific ordeal, Dan can recall one thing--his escape meant leaving his brother behind.

With each day that passes, Dan waits with the other survivors in hope of his brother's escape. But just as long-forgotten memories start rising to the surface, the sudden appearance of a wounded woman throws everything into question. As Dan struggles to know who to trust, he is caught once again in a paralyzing moral dilemma:

How far will he go to save the people he loves?    

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Shawn Smucker is the award-winning author of Light from Distant Stars, the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, and the memoir Once We Were Strangers. He lives with his wife and six children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him online at www.shawnsmucker.com.

My Thoughts:
"It's the kind of place you have to leave on your own.  Everyone who has ever left has battled their way out.  In this place, our guilt consumes us."  p. 203

After reading this book, I've had to sit with its truth for a few days before writing my review.  I'll be honest, when I began reading, I stayed a bit confused by the story line.  I was confused about the location and the circumstances in which I found the characters living.  So, I have to say from the very beginning, stick with this story!!  Everything will become clear as you read.  As you take steps toward understanding, things will become clearer and clearer.  It is SO WORTH the journey!

I know, if you've been reading my blog anytime at all, you know I always intersect with a story at a God appointed moment in my life.  This story intersects my life in a season of growth and change.  Those two words sound amazing, no?  However, they are, in reality uncomfortably hard.  The characters in this story are in that same place, but they don't exactly realize it.  Truth be told, the journey to understand that truth about their lives is a bit circuitous. This is not an action packed thriller.  Rather, this is a story that is personal, individual and challenges us as such to learn to be an honest contributor to the groups we find ourselves a part of....family, church, work, friends.

I encourage everyone to take the time to savor this book. It is very different from most fiction I've read lately. The characters are very believable, and you will like some more than others.  This is an analogous tale, and, as such, needs to be read with an open mind.  Experience it. You will be so glad you did!!